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30 Mexico Historical Facts You Might Not Know About!

Mexico’s history is a tapestry woven with the legacies of civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans. If you’re curious about the past, here are some Mexican historical facts.

Mexico is the land of vibrant culture, rich heritage, and tacos but also a treasure trove of historical wonders. While you may be familiar with the beaches of Mexico and the Mayan ruins, Mexico’s history runs deeper than a bottle of tequila.

Did you know that Mexico’s official name is Estados Unidos Mexicanos, which translates to the United Mexican States? Pretty cool, huh?

Since moving to Mexico, I have developed a huge interest in its rich history. In this post, I am going to share with you 30 historical facts about Mexico that you might not know. Many of these will blow your mind.

Mexico Historical Facts

Mexico Historical Facts

The history of Mexico timeline is an intriguing blend of the impact of indigenous civilizations and that of Spain’s invasion.

Most facts listed below have been arranged in chronological order to give you a deeper insight into Mexican history. Without further ado, here are the 30 Mexico historical facts.

1. Dinosaurs died in Mexico.

Mexico’s historical landscape bears witness to one of the most cataclysmic events in Earth’s history. The meteorite that spelled doom for the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago struck the Yucatán Peninsula. In 1981, employees of Mexico’s PEMEX stumbled upon a crater measuring 180 square meters wide and over 600 meters deep.

They then discovered some of the most unique natural wonders of Mexicocenotes or natural sinkholes. The Yucatan Peninsula is scattered with over 7,000 cenotes and caves. The ancient Mayans believed that the cenotes were a portal through which they could communicate with the gods. They performed rituals in the cenotes which were considered sacred to them.

Mexico Historical Facts - cenotes natural sinkholes

2. The climate of Mexico was milder than it is today.

When the first people arrived in Mexico, they were greeted by a climate considerably milder than the one we know today. The Valley of Mexico, with its vast paleo-lakes forming Lake Texcoco, was a lush paradise, adorned with thick vegetation and teeming with life.

While deer roamed the land, the majority of wildlife were tiny terrestrial animals, various fish species, and other lacustrine creatures. This was an ideal setting for the early inhabitants to pursue a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, laying the groundwork for the rich tapestry of civilizations.

Mexico Historical Facts - Climate Of Mexico

3. Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations shaped Mesoamerican history.

Mexico has a rich tapestry of ancient civilizations that have left an indelible mark on Mesoamerican history. Among these are the Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations, each contributing unique cultural, architectural, and scientific advancements to the region.

The Olmecs, emerging around 1500 BCE, laid the groundwork for complex societies with their sophisticated art and monumental stone heads. The Maya civilization flourished from 2000 BCE to 1500 CE. The Mayans astounded the world with their achievements in astronomy, mathematics, and city planning, leaving behind iconic sites like Chichen Itza and Palenque.

Finally, the Aztecs, rising to prominence in the 14th century, constructed the city-state of Tenochtitlan, adorned with monumental structures like Templo Mayor. Together, these civilizations form the bedrock of Mexico’s rich historical legacy, showcasing the ingenuity and cultural diversity of ancient Mesoamerica.

Mexico Historical Facts - Olmec, Maya, and Aztec civilizations

4. Tenochtitlan is the foundation of Mexico City.

Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire, holds a pivotal place in Mexico’s historical narrative. It is the foundation upon which modern-day Mexico City stands. With a population of around 150,000 inhabitants, Tenochtitlan was an island on a vast lake, offering strategic advantages and a vibrant urban center.

Recognizing its significance, the Spanish colonists opted to make the Mexican capital in this historic locale. But this decision required ambitious engineering feats as they embarked on a colossal project to reclaim land by filling in the lake. This paved the way for the construction of Ciudad de Mexico, a testament to the resilience and adaptability of civilizations across the ages.

Mexico Historical Facts - Tenochtitlan Is The Foundation Of Mexico City

5. The Aztecs invented the oldest ballgame.

One of Mexico’s most intriguing historical facts revolves around the ancient Aztec ballgame known as tlachtli. Dating back to ancient times, tlachtli was a sport of both skill and ritual significance. It was played with a solid rubber ball weighing up to four kilos.

Participants used their hips, forearms, or a stick to propel the ball through stone hoops at either end of a sunken court. This thrilling game was not merely entertainment; it held deep religious and cultural importance.

In high-stakes matches, the losers faced a grim fate—sacrifice. Today, a modern iteration of the game, ulama, is still played in the state of Sinaloa, although without the macabre ritual of human sacrifice.

6. Mexico is one of the 6 cradles of global civilization.

Mexico is one of the six cradles of civilization, a land steeped in history and heritage dating back to at least 8,000 BC. Within its borders, the footprints of great empires like the Olmec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Zapotec, Mayan, and Aztec civilizations are imprinted upon its landscapes.

Much like the ancient civilizations of India, Egypt, China, Peru, and Mesopotamia, Mexico’s rich tapestry of history and culture has left an indelible mark on the world, showcasing the ingenuity, creativity, and resilience of its people throughout the ages.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico civilization

7. Mexico has 68 indigenous languages.

Mexico’s linguistic landscape is as diverse as its cultural tapestry. Whereas Spanish is the official language and is widely spoken, the country has an astonishing 68 official indigenous languages. The languages have a myriad of variations bringing the total indigenous dialects to a staggering 200.

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This linguistic richness is particularly evident in regions like the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayan language still holds sway. In these communities, linguistic nuances can vary from village to village, with some elderly individuals exclusively fluent in their native dialects. Even in the modern age, the echoes of ancient tongues persist, preserving the vibrant tapestry of Mexico’s linguistic heritage for generations to come.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico Has 68 Indigenous Languages

8. Mesoamerica first to use indigenous writing systems in North America.

Before the European invasion, Mesoamerica was a beacon of intellectual prowess in the Americas. From the intricate hieroglyphs of the Maya to the pictorial language of the Aztecs, Mesoamerican civilizations crafted sophisticated means of communication. These spanned the spectrum from simple “picture-writing” to elaborate logophonetic systems capable of conveying speech and literature.

These writing systems were not merely tools for recording history but served as conduits for cultural expression and knowledge transmission. With a fusion of symbols, glyphs, and phonetic elements, the writing showcased an understanding that distinguished it as a hallmark of human achievement.

Mexico Historical Facts - Writing Systems in North America

9. Smallpox shaped Mexico’s religious landscape.

In Mexico’s historical narrative, smallpox was deemed a pivotal moment intertwined with spiritual interpretations and cultural transformations. For the Aztec Empire, the sudden appearance of the disease was perceived as a divine punishment, a wrath unleashed by the gods upon their people.

Smallpox’s ravaging effects were so unprecedented that the Aztec citizens interpreted it as divine retribution, prompting a shift in their religious beliefs. Faced with the apparent superiority of the Christian deity, they embraced Catholicism, recognizing its perceived potency in the face of such calamity. This shaped Mexico’s cultural and spiritual landscape, where the encounter with a devastating disease catalyzed a profound re-evaluation of belief systems.

10. Mexico is home to the world’s biggest pyramid.

In the heart of Cholula, lies a marvel of ancient engineering and religious devotion—the Great Pyramid of Cholula (Tlachihualtepetl). Tlachihualtepetl means “made-by-hand mountain” in Nahuatl. This awe-inspiring complex is the largest archaeological site of a pyramid in the New World.

Though its height reaches just 25 meters, dwarfed by the Great Pyramid of Giza, its breadth stretches 300 by 315 meters. The pyramid was dedicated to the revered god Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent deity deeply ingrained in Aztec and Mayan culture.

Mexico Historical Facts - Great Pyramid of Cholula

11. Mexico is home to one of the 7 Wonders of the World.

Nestled in the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is a testament to the ingenuity and precision of the ancient Mayan civilization. Dating back to 800–900 CE, this revered archaeological site has earned its place among the modern wonders of the world. At its center lies the imposing Castillo A, a towering pyramid dedicated to the Mayan deity Kukulkan.

With 365 steps on each of its four sides, representing the days of the solar year, this structure is a marvel of astronomical significance. During the spring and fall equinoxes, the sun’s rays cast a mesmerizing shadow resembling a serpent descending the northern stairway of the temple. The breathtaking phenomenon continues to captivate visitors and is a reminder of the Mayan people’s deep understanding of celestial cycles.

Mexico Historical Facts - ancient Mayan civilization

12. Mexico was under Spanish rule for three centuries.

In the early 16th century, Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés embarked on a historic expedition to Mexico, where he encountered the mighty Aztec Empire. Despite being vastly outnumbered, Cortés leveraged alliances with indigenous groups who opposed Aztec rule. This ignited a tumultuous conflict that would reshape the course of history.

Cortés waged war against the Aztecs, culminating in the dramatic fall of their magnificent capital city, Tenochtitlan, in 1521. This marked the dawn of Spanish colonization in Mexico, leaving an indelible imprint on the land, its people, and its culture.

13. Hernán Cortés not the first European to set foot in Mexico.

Francisco Hernández de Córdoba was the first European to step on Mexican soil. In February 1517, Córdoba, accompanied by 100 men aboard three ships, sailed from Cuba to the southern shores of Mexico. This bold expedition led to the first encounter between Europeans and the ancient Mayan civilization.

Córdoba’s visit was met with hostility, resulting in the loss of about 50 men and the capture of several others. Córdoba and his remaining crew returned to Cuba, where he reported their findings to General Velásquez. This encounter set the stage for a larger, more consequential expedition in 1519, led by Hernán Cortés.

Mexico Historical Facts - Francisco Hernández de Córdoba
Credit: JamesNarmer

14. Smallpox helped Spanish conquistadors win the war.

When Hernán Cortés and his 500 men set foot on Mexican soil, they encountered the sprawling Aztec civilization. The Aztecs had established their grand capital, Tenochtitlan, upon the shimmering waters of Lake Texcoco, dominating an expanse of some 80,000 square miles. Confronting such a formidable force with just a handful of soldiers would have seemed an insurmountable task.

However, through strategic alliances with local tribes and the devastating smallpox, the Spaniards managed to topple the Aztec stronghold. The Aztecs had no immunity to the disease which wrought havoc upon their population, aiding the Spanish conquest.

Mexico Historical Facts - Aztec civilization

15. Mexico was named New Spain following the Spanish invasion.

In 1519, the course of Mexican history took a profound turn when Spanish conquistadors set foot on its shores. These territories were declared “the New Spain,” forever altering the landscape of the region. After achieving independence in 1821, the territory “New Spain” transitioned into a sovereign state, adopting the name “State of Mexico.”

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The country’s official name has undergone numerous changes following changes in government. It was initially declared as “América Septentrional” (Northern America) by the deputies of the Congress of Anáhuac in 1813.

Mexico in two brief intervals (1821–1823 and 1863–1867) was known as the Mexican Empire. Today the official name of the country is Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Mexican United States).

16. The name “Mexico” has many meanings.

Mexico’s historical roots are as mysterious as they are intriguing, starting with its very name. The etymology of “Mexico” remains shrouded in enigma, with scholars and historians offering various interpretations but failing to reach a consensus.

Some speculate that it signifies “Place Where the God of War Lives,” attributing it to the war god Mexi. Others say it means “At the Navel of the Moon.” Amidst these diverse theories, the truth remains elusive, leaving Mexico’s name to be a captivating enigma.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico City

17. Mexico’s silver pesos were the first global currency.

One interesting Mexico fun fact that truly shines – its silver pesos were the world’s inaugural global currency. Minted by the colonial government from silver, these coins traversed oceans and continents, establishing themselves as a cornerstone of international trade. Known as Spanish dollars or “Pieces of Eight,” these coins were valued at eight reals, the currency of Mexico.

Their influence extended far beyond the borders of Mexico, finding utility in Spain, the Caribbean, and even Southeast Asia. From pirate tales to economic exchanges, these silver pesos epitomized Mexico’s pivotal role in shaping the global economy.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico’s Pesos

18. Catholic priest sparked Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain.

The Mexican War of Independence ignited on September 16th, 1810 was propelled by the “Grito de Dolores” of Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. This sparked a fierce battle against Spanish dominion. This pivotal moment stirred the spirit of rebellion across Mexico, sparking a decade-long struggle against colonial oppression.

Guided by José María Morelos and Agustín de Iturbide, the revolution persevered through hardships and triumphs for years. It finally culminated in the historic agreement known as the Plan of Iguala on September 27, 1821. With this accord, the Spanish Viceroy conceded to the aspirations of a nation yearning for sovereignty, thereby heralding the birth of independent Mexico.

19. The wounds of the Spanish invasion are still fresh.

Even five centuries after the Spanish conquest, Mexico still harbors a profound resentment towards their conquerors. This enduring bitterness manifests itself in myriad ways, from cultural expressions to political discourse.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador asked for a public apology from the king of Spain and the pope for the atrocities committed during the invasion. This call for acknowledgment and reconciliation underscores the deep scars left by centuries of colonial oppression.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico City life

20. Cultural synchronicity between Spanish and Mexican cultures still evident.

Mexico’s historical tapestry is richly woven with threads of Spanish and Mexican cultures, seamlessly blending colonial influences with indigenous traditions. Cities like Puebla, Queretaro, Zacatecas, and Merida are proof of this fusion, boasting colonial buildings adorned with intricate details and traditional craftsmanship.

In Puebla, the vibrant Talavera pottery reflects the intricate artistry brought by Spanish settlers. Yucatan’s haciendas showcase the grandeur of Spanish colonial estates amidst the lush landscapes.

Mexico Historical Facts - Yucatan's haciendas

21. Texas, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and California were part of Mexico.

The Mexican-American War of 1846-1848 was a pivotal chapter in Mexico’s history. The war was sparked by tensions over the Texas-Mexico border. Following Texas’ declaration of independence in 1836 and its annexation by the United States, Mexico contested this move, sparking conflict between the two nations.

The war reached its climax with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, a watershed moment that redrew the map of North America. Mexico relinquished California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Wyoming, to the victorious United States.

22. Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s victory over the French.

Cinco de Mayo, one of the most important Mexican holidays, is celebrated annually on May 5th. It commemorates the triumph of the Mexican army over the formidable French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Led by the valiant General Ignacio Zaragoza, Mexican forces courageously defended the city of Puebla against overwhelming odds.

Mexico Historical Facts - Cinco de Mayo

23. Mexico hosts the oldest University in North America.

Mexico has the honor of hosting the oldest university in North America, a testament to its rich educational heritage. Established in 1551 by King Charles V of Spain, the Real y Pontificia Universidad de México held a prestigious status until its closure in 1865.

However, the legacy of this esteemed institution lives on through the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, founded in 1910.

24. The Mexican Revolution was behind the 1917 constitution.

The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) is a testament to the fervent spirit of change in response to the oppressive reign of Porfirio Díaz. Díaz’s autocratic rule, extending over three decades, ignited a powder keg of discontent among the populace. This tumultuous period witnessed the emergence of various factions and leaders, each driven by distinct ideologies and visions for the future.

Among these, Emiliano Zapata was a beacon of hope for the disenfranchised peasantry, advocating fiercely for agrarian reform and the rights of the oppressed. On the other hand, Pancho Villa spearheaded a formidable military campaign in the northern territories, challenging the status quo with unwavering determination. The revolution led to the downfall of Díaz, paving the way for the drafting of a progressive new constitution in 1917.

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Mexico Historical Facts - The Mexican Revolution celebration

25. The Mexican Revolution shaped the country’s art scene.

Mexican muralism emerged as a powerful artistic force in the wake of the Mexican Revolution. Led by famous Mexican artists Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, the movement used murals to narrate Mexico’s history and champion social justice causes.

Through their vivid and monumental artworks, these artists communicated messages of empowerment, advocating for land reform, workers’ rights, and equality. Muralism transcended artistic expression; it became a medium for social change, shaping the nation’s consciousness and laying the foundation for modern Mexican art.  

26. The Institutional Revolutionary Party dominated Mexico’s political scene for 70 years.

For much of the 20th century, Mexico’s political landscape was shaped by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The PRI dominated Mexican politics with a firm grip, employing a mixture of authoritarian tactics, patronage systems, and state-led development initiatives.

The winds of change came in 2000 when Vicente Fox, from the National Action Party, clinched the presidency, breaking the PRI’s seven-decade-long streak. Fox’s victory marked a pivotal moment in Mexican history, signaling the dawn of a new era characterized by a diversification of political power.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexico’s Political Scene

27. Color TV originated from Mexico.

In regards to technological innovation, Mexico has a remarkable tale of brilliance and youthful ingenuity. Guillermo González Camarena, the extraordinary mind behind the color television, etched his name into history at the tender age of 17.

In 1942, he unveiled the chromoscopic adapter for television equipment, a pioneering system that laid the groundwork for color TV transmission. His first color transmission illuminated screens across Mexico City four years later, in 1946.

28. Mariachi represents the lively Mexican spirit.

Mariachi music, a vibrant Mexican tradition, traces its roots to the western states of Mexico, particularly Jalisco. Its distinctive sound is characterized by the harmonious blend of guitars, violins, trumpets, and the enchanting notes of a high-pitched folk harp. Dressed in elaborate charro outfits adorned with ornate embroidery and wide-brimmed sombrero hats, mariachi bands embody the essence of Mexican culture.

Their performances exude the lively and celebratory spirit of Mexico, often serving as the musical backdrop to weddings, birthdays, and national holidays. With its infectious rhythms and emotive melodies, mariachi music has transcended borders, gaining international recognition and becoming a symbol of Mexican identity.

Mexico Historical Facts - Mariachi statue

29. Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) marks the cycle of life and death.

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is a testament to Mexico’s deeply rooted cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs. Held annually on November 1st and 2nd, this holiday is a reminder of the enduring connection between the living and the deceased. Communities come together to construct intricate ofrendas (altars) adorned with photographs, favorite foods, vibrant marigolds, flickering candles, and other symbolic offerings.

It’s a time of remembrance, where stories are shared, memories cherished, and respect paid to those who have passed on. The festival isn’t a somber occasion; instead, it’s a jubilant celebration of life’s cyclical nature, embracing death as an integral part of existence. With its vivid colors, lively festivities, and traditions, the event unites the past and present in a beautiful tapestry of love and remembrance.

Mexico Historical Facts - Día de los Muertos

30. The Mexican flag is drenched in symbolism.

Mexico’s national flag speaks volumes about its rich history. Centered amidst the vibrant tricolors, an eagle with a serpent clenched in its beak stands atop a prickly pear cactus. This image traces back to Aztec mythology, where legend has it that the sun god, Huitzilopochtli, foretold the Aztecs of their destined settlement.

Guided by divine prophecy, they embarked on a quest to find an eagle devouring a serpent atop a cactus, a sign indicating their promised land. Upon discovering this scene, they established Tenochtitlan, the foundation of what would later blossom into the bustling metropolis of Mexico City.  

Mexico Historical Facts - Mexican Flag Is Drenched In Symbolism

What Are Your Favorite Mexico Historical Facts?

Thank you for reading this far! I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of historical facts about Mexico. Were any of these Mexican history facts already familiar to you? I’d love to hear which ones and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. I’ll be more than happy to answer them!

For those who are planning to travel more in Mexico, check out some of these articles:

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links i.e. if you book a stay through one of my links, I get a small commission at NO EXTRA COST to you. Thank you for your support!

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Mexico Historical Facts

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